Here are some code phrases that subtly replace your desire with what you should do:
It’s right to …
What will the market allow?
It makes sense to…
It’s a good thing to do (or, it’ll be *good for me* to…)
It’s a healthy thing to do
It’s the best choice to make [for my family/friends/society/employees/etc.]
It’s the most realistic choice
I’m doing it for them…
I’ll be glad I made this choice [in ten years/twenty years/when I retire/etc.]
Each of these ways of making a decision are perfectly fine in certain situations. But when we’re trying to get at your desire, all of these statements, conclusions, or logic for making a decision actually mask it.
The way we show up in modern society is from an underlying principle that our wants and desires cannot be trusted. We learn this at a very young age, and it becomes the primary way in which we move through the world.
When you’re young, this can be healthy. Learning to control your impulses and the immediacy of your desires can be a healthy thing, and doing so gives us access to choice (rather than letting our impulses control us).
But somewhere along the way, this stops being a choice, and instead, it becomes the truth about ourselves and our wants.
What you want becomes subsumed under an endless array of other demands for how you choose and what you go after in life.
“Don’t play squash, that sport doesn’t get you scholarships — play football.”
“Don’t go to school for a fine arts degree, what will you do with that when you graduate? Get a business degree.”
“Don’t be an entrepreneur, that’s too risky. Get a stable job for ten years, then you’ll be ready to go out on your own.”
Initially these reasons to set aside our wants are provided externally by people that have our best interests at heart. They’re ultimately trying to teach us the same thing they were taught. (Whether or not those approaches actually lead to a fully-expressed life is another question entirely.)
Over time, these voices become internalized. More and more often, our desire for what we want clashes with a story about what is realistic. We make the “right” choice, rather than the choice aligned with our desires.
Eventually you stop hearing the voice of your desire entirely. It gets replaced with these code phrases above — all of which are subtle ways to choose what you should, rather than what you actually want.
Here’s a simple question I ask everyone that is considering working with me: Why do you want to deepen your capacity as a leader?
The most common answer is “It’ll be a good thing for me to do.”
That’s a terrible reason to take on this kind of work. “A good thing to do” is really just the same as “Because I should be a better leader”.
This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t legitimate reasons you have for deepening your leadership — but until you create those reasons for yourself — until you really get clear on why you want to do this work — your fear and resistance will derail you every time.
Doing something because you should will only ever motivate you enough to overcome whatever guilt you feel about not doing it. That’s why trying to eat healthier because you should works for precisely long enough to not feel so bad about yourself, and then falls away.
Living a fully-expressed life requires learning to trust your own intuition and your desires. That doesn’t always mean that leaning into your desire works every time — sometimes the path to learning to trust your desire is leaning into it, and then discovering “Oh… that actually wasn’t what I wanted at all.”
If trusting something worked out every time, there wouldn’t be any trust required.
As a starting point, begin listening for your code phrases — the secret ways that you subsume your desire under what you should do.
And when you catch one of these code phrases, ask yourself “Yah, but what do I actually want?”
The rest unfolds from there.